NESFA Members' Reviews


by Connie Willis

Bantam Spectra, ISBN 0-553-37562-8, 1996, 256pp, US$11.95

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper

Though Willis has been saying at conventions that her next book would be a time travel story set in the late 19th century, this is not that book. Rather, this is a story set in the present, with statistician Sandra Foster researching fads. As part of this Willis, starts each chapter with the description of a fad of the past: hula hoops, the jitterbug, diorama wigs, etc.

I say that this is the present for two reasons First, there is the statement that it's Monday, October the second--which makes it either 1995 or 2000. Second, the fads described as being current (Power Rangers, the Lion King, and angels) are active now, but probably will have been supplanted by the year 2000. In fact, this isn't really a science fiction novel at all, but more in line with Willis's other "social satires." (Many people have said that her "In the Late Cretaceous" is not science fiction either.)

One thing that adds to the realism in BELLWETHER is Willis's description of how the corporate culture works, even in hi-tech environments. She ranks with Scott Adams (creator of the "Dilbert" comic strip) in capturing the insanity of many corporate philosophies. For example, in a brain-storming session on objectives for "Guided Resource Intuition Management," one person lists:

  1. Optimize potential.
  2. Facilitate empowerment.
  3. Implement visioning.
  4. Strategize priorities.
  5. Augment core structures.

When asked by Foster how she did that so fast, she replies that those were what she always wrote down. I figure that this list alone will save me hours at work.

The problem with BELLWETHER is that while individual parts are funny and pointed, the whole doesn't seem to go anywhere. Willis writes very good novellas, and for me this might have been better at that length. As it is, it seems drawn out--drawn out, mind you, not padded. (They're not the same thing.) I like the writing, and I like the humor, and maybe I'm looking for more point than a short humorous novel is supposed to have. But when I finished BELLWETHER I felt vaguely dissatisfied.

%T      Bellwether
%A      Connie Willis
%C      New York
%D      March 1996
%I      Bantam Spectra
%O      trade paperback, US$11.95
%G      ISBN 0-553-37562-8
%P      256pp

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